[INTERVIEW] The Man Behind Rumours

As the man behind Rumours, there happen to be a few rumours behind your childhood. Some have even said that you are just a rich kid enjoying the luxuries of your inheritance. So, what is the truth?

I was born into a wealthy family. My father, the late Mr Ayyakannu, is the founder of Muthu's Curry, the popular restaurant in Singapore. Due to problems between my parents, I was staying with my maternal grandmother.
Both my parents passed away within 6 months in the early 1990s. I did want to enroll myself into ITE aft my N Levels. But the money from my work was more important. I carried on working till I enlisted when I was 17 1/2 years old.

As the son of a successful restaurant owner, one would expect your childhood to be nothing short of luxurious. Your story seems like you had to forsake your education because of your financial situation.

Until I was 12 or 13, it was like that. I did not even know how to travel by bus. It was either by taxi or our chauffeur drove me around. It was the split between my parents that made my world turn around. My mother had to resort to a factory job which paid her about $800-$900 a month. That was definitely insufficient to support a family.

Furthermore, my parents were only traditionally married. The importance of a legal marriage was not great then. My birth certificate does list my father's name but the lack of legal status of their marriage had a impact on my life, especially when my mother passed on barely 6 months after we moved out due to a liver failure.

My father tried to seek custody of myself and my sister. But I was afraid that we would not be treated well by his first wife's family. My sister was just 6 years old. The age difference between my oldest brother  (the current proprietor of Muthu's Curry) and myself is 11 years. When this happened, they (children from the first wife) were young adults already.  I felt that it would be safer for us to remain with our maternal grandmother.
With my mother's passing, I was left with no choice but to work. We stayed with our grandmother. I had a maternal uncle (Raja) who was helping us. But, he had his own family to tend to as well. Both my sister and myself had to rely on ourselves.

If money was not an issue in your teenage years, what would have been your ideal career path?

I wanted to sign on with the Commandos. I did clear the physical examination but I did not clear the security clearance. It may be due to the fact that my father was just a PR up till his death. I applied for the Guards as well. I was rejected again.  Eventually I was a driver during my NS days.
I had to resort to seeking special permission to work during my off days due to my financial situation.

What were you doing after NS?

I started working as a driver in Anandha Bhavan. The then-boss, the late Mr Ramachandran, recognised me as the son of Mr Ayyakannu. He was surprised that I was leading a difficult life because there was a rumour at the time that there was 2 million dollar policy made out under my mom's name. The policy did exist but it lapsed due to non-payment of premiums. I explained the real situation. He offered me a job for $750 a month.  That was my first job. He was a good boss and I received several promotions while I was with Anandha Bhavan. I was there for 5 years. I was working 7 days a week.

Eventually, I reached a ceiling at that job and was not getting anywhere. It was then, another friend of my father's got in touch with me and offered me an opportunity in a mineral water company. It was a small set up in Singapore but   he had an established business back in India. He offered me a position paying $3500 for a 5 day work week.

How was this new journey?

It was tough but he taught me a lot about water. As my income rose, my needs increased as well. I wanted to live comfortably. I bought a nice car. I wanted to have jewellery. To make it worse, I made some bad investments. It was at the time, a friend of mine offered me the opportunity to be a bouncer at a club. I was a bouncer at Bumblebee and was getting $50 a night. While I was working, I started looking at the dynamics of the nightlife industry. The business is tough but I felt the the entertainment industry was similar to F&B.

Now, here's what everyone wants to know, how did Rumours begin?

In 2009, a friend of mine, Vijay,  introduced the idea to me. There was a financier. We took over an existing club called 2359. It was open for 4 days a week, Wednesday to Saturday. I was still working at the water company and balancing both. We initially kept the name 2359. But business was not doing too well.

How did you the name "Rumours" come about?

Actually, we were choosing between 5 names.
1. Rumours
2. Boat Quay World Music
3. Candyshop
4.Gossip
5. Poison

We narrowed it down to Rumours, Gossip and Candyshop. We drew lots and we ended up with Rumours. Personally, I was not too happy with Rumours. So I went to my designer and told him to come up with a logo for all 3. Coincidently, he was busy that day, and only did one. It was for Rumours. I loved the logo and settled on it. Within 2 weeks, the crowd started flow in.

What were your initial struggles?

When we were operating under the 2359 name, business was very bad. The crowd  from Jeanz @ BQ would walk past us as if we were invisible and made their way to Club Celebrities. The name change was a game changer. We moved twice within the same stretch. We had to move as we sub-tenants and were affected by the dealings between the landlord and main tenant.

It was an excellent learning experience, from license requirements to maximum capacity permitted by law, to stock taking , to figuring out who's stealing  bottles. For me, I'd thought that this industry was a no-brainer as long as  you get a crowd every week. It was way more than that. I had to micro-manage, learn about marketing and promotions.

Rumours started out as 3rd Storey,  an after party joint. What changed it?
We  moved to a bigger place in 2011, at Concorde. Being a small club all this while, the average age of our patrons were 18-22. We started getting a reputation for fights due to that as well. The strange bit is that where nightlife is concerned, fights are everywhere from your clubs in  5 star hotels to the back alleys in Tekka.  But when there is a fight in Rumours, it becomes big news, probably because of the rumours. [Ed Note: he totally meant the pun]

There are fights everywhere. Maybe, Rumours has become the "in place" to have a fight at. Its like when you shop at LV, you would want to show off about it. Same thing with fighting at Rumours. Some people are proud of it. From our end, we have tried our best to ensure the safety of our patrons are not compromised. For example, we used to hire freelance security staff. We made changes and engaged the services of a security firm with qualified officers.

What triggered the move to Liang Court?

We had an issue with capacity. The structure in Concorde was very disjointed. It was as if you are 2 different clubs. We were looking for an alternative place. We thought of getting a live band at Liang Court and calling it Rumours Exclusive and keeping Concorde for the younger crowd. To be honest, the live-band idea was a flop.

What were the reasons for the failure?

I think people has a certain expectation about the Rumours brand. We struggled for 3 months and decided to switch to DJ in both places. Liang Court began to gain traction and became the the hotspot. Concorde suffered as a result of that. We decide to let go of Concorde. With that a new problem arose. The limited capacity. To be honest, we did not feel good that people were forking out $200-$300 and still could not get a place to sit.

The Liang Court Days
To overcome this problem, we decided to lease another unit within Liang Court ( Club Celeb). Strangely, it did not solve any problem. People still refused to go to Celeb and insisted on queuing at Rumours. Sometimes it did not make sense because it was still the same DJs. DJ Sathiya was spinning at both places. So we had no choice but to let go of the place.

So, tell us more about the Big Move to Central Mall

It was a risky move.  I have to thank my partner Daisy for giving me the confidence to make the move happen. From 2000 Sq feet to 12,000 Sq feet, this was no ordinary step. Initially there was a good response, possibly because it was towards the year end. At the dawn of the new year, we realised that people were comparing Rumours to other smaller clubs. We then realised that people did not want comfort. They wanted a place that was just nice and crowded. At our new place at Central Mall, even if we had 500 people, it would not be jam-packed. People were comparing Rumours to clubs whose entire space was the size of our bar counter.

We did try to innovate . My partner Daisy created some new events and competitions to revolutionalise the clubbing scene but at the end of the day, the place was just too big. Furthermore, during our weekends, where we were packed, the thought of having 500 odd Indians who were intoxicated in one concentrated area is a scary thought. With the riots, the Police presence increased at places where Indians were concentrated. We were very afraid of a fight the could escalate just because of the crowd.
Rumours functioned on a simple ethos. I took care of the back end operations. Daisy handled the promotions, the marketing aspect and most importantly, the customer experience. She felt that the size of the new place resulted in us losing the personal touch, something that she took great pride in.

The sensible decision was to scale back. This may look like we failed but we made the decision taking our customer experience into account. In May 2014, we were back at Liang Court.

It has been almost 6 years. Apart from Asoka, Rumours has been the longest lasting club. How do you guys ensure you can survive the next few years?

We try to change consistently. Some changes go unnoticed. We change the lightinng and other aspects of the interior from time to time . Some people complain about high prices. But they fail to realise that our prices are are very affordable before midnight. If you come late,  you have to pay a premium.
Apart from that , we keep re-investing in our equipment to ensure the customer gets the best sound experience. This stuff does not come cheap. Plus, we always try to change our venue to keep things fresh. True enough, we are moving  to a new place again.

Personally, I try going to new places, for example F Club, not to party and enjoy, but more so, to look at how things are done. I have to keep learning from other clubs to make sure Rumours is not lacking in anyway.

Furthermore, Daisy's never ending creativity ensure that we are the trendsetters in this industry.

We have heard some talk on the street that Rumours sells fake alcohol. Would you like to address this?

Thank you for asking this question. I would personally invite anyone who can prove that we do that. We get our alcohol from licensed distributors. For example, Pernod Ricard has even given us a certification confirming the same. What is strange is that some customers have become lab technicians and are able to deliver their verdict on the authenticity of alcohol by knocking the bottles on their elbows and using subsequent number of bubbles, that appears as a result of the knocking, to determine authenticity.

As a management, how do you ensure the safety of your patrons?

Firstly, I would like to believe that majority of fights are started by accident and the influence of alcohol. Not everyone plans to have a fight beforehand. On the flipside, when we spot a recurring fight occurrence with a particular patron, we are quick to ban him.
We have even switched from glasses to plastic cups to ensure nobdy gets injured, even by accident. While we respect every person, we have no choice but to profile people to ensure the safety of the majority.
We also had to take the painful decision of imposing bans on a significant number of patrons to ensure the overall safety of our customers.

As a son of the founder of Muthu's Curry, any chance of u moving into F&B?
When I was in the Anandha Bhavan, the thought did come across my mind. But it will be difficult. The long hours will be a factor. The foreign worker quota issue will be a problem.

As an entrepreneur, any future plans?
I am happy with what I have. Maybe when I was younger, I had some ideas. Now, I rather stabilise my own business.

In your opinion, the best Rumours DJ of all time?

The current team is the strongest team. Everyone of them is the best in a particular aspect. We have had good DJs in the past. But I am delighted that our current trio is a step above the rest.
Almost every Indian at one point in time, has had the thought of opening an Indian club.

It is a good industry. But, in Singapore, it is more than just a product and service. You got to take into consideration matters beyond your control, licensing for one. Secondly, the business can be very unpredictable. There is risk.  This is not an easy path. But if you really want it, go ahead. I wish you all the best.

The Rumours Journey is probably THE most defining part of your life. Anything you would like to about it?

To be honest, I never planned for Rumours. This was neither a childhood ambition nor an aspiration. It just happened. Rumours started out as a 3rd storey after club  place. Today, it is the number 1 choice. Every other 18 year old celebrates their 18th / 21st birthday in Rumours. It has become a way of life. I owe do it all to my partner Daisy.  Her involvment in Rumours revolutionised the place to where it is today. She dared to dream big and she is the backbone behind the success of Rumours.  This would not be possible without her. Thank you Daisy.

Interview as Spoken to Thinesh Kurunathan
 

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